How can I motivate my children to learn?
In teaching our eight children, I struggle when it comes to “forcing” children to do what they do not want to do. However, I know there are certain things my children need to know, and I am adamant about teaching them those things. In these situations, I’ve learned it is important to ask God for His wisdom, as James 1:5 states: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
The Lord has faithfully given me creative ideas for motivating my children to desire God’s best for their lives. I found that as I dealt with my own impatience and made decisions about what we should study, I was free to focus on the disciplines of character development and academic pursuits as I motivated the children to learn. Now I am amazed at how they have grown in knowledge and in their desire to learn more! God can do this for your family as well.
Addressing Anger and Impatience
When the children were younger, one problem I had to deal with was my own anger toward them. It robbed me of God’s wisdom and blocked my creativity. For example, I often became angry when I thought a child already knew the material and was just not being cooperative. Time pressures were another factor that contributed to my anger. Sometimes one or both of us would rather have been doing something else!
I learned to recognize these frustrations and turn things around by yielding my right to have my children’s attention and choosing to smile. As I humbled myself in this way, God gave me the wisdom and creativity I needed to reevaluate the situation before deciding how to continue.
If I decided it was best to press on with the current situation, I would calmly ask questions to find out exactly what the child understood, accept that fact, and then pleasantly work with him for a limited time. Usually all the child needed was to have his memory refreshed. Our children learned that if they cooperated, less time would be required. Sometimes with an older child I would calmly say, “We will continue to work on this lesson until your attitude changes, even if it takes all day!” I think the secret to success in this situation was my smile.
Pinpointing Study Choices
Another problem that plagued me was the question of what to teach. I knew I couldn’t teach my children everything. Out of all the possibilities, I wondered what they needed most to be successful in the paths God chose for them. I wondered how many hours of “school time” I should require. I didn’t have the answers to these questions, but I repeatedly prayed, “God, help my children to learn whatever is necessary to be productive in the future vocation you have planned for them.”
Our main curriculum has been ATI’s Wisdom Booklets. For the most part, our academic studies have been coordinated with the topics of the booklets, and the Biblical perspective presented there gave purpose and meaning to studies in geography, history, government, and science. When the children grew older, they were motivated to read supplementary texts (such as BJU textbooks) on many subjects. These studies helped them fill information gaps and contributed to their thirst for knowledge, motivating them to focus on their particular field of interest in pursuit of a vocation.
Focusing on Character Development
One major focus of our teaching was defining, identifying, and praising specific character qualities, such as honesty, joyfulness, thankfulness, and humility. Most of the time I felt like I couldn’t get past the quality of obedience!
Even though we managed to memorize the definition of a quality and write down an application with each Wisdom Booklet we studied, it was often hard to see if there were any real results. But, praise the Lord, the fruit ripened! Our focus on character created a thirst for knowledge, and the results are now evident—not only in our children, but also in Don and me as we mature with them in Christ. “For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:36).
Making the Bible a Priority
Bible reading, memorization, and meditation are priorities in our lives. Since the time when our oldest child was six years old, Don has led our family in reading the Bible every morning before breakfast. Everyone is expected to be present and to sit quietly during this time. Our children have been the ones who keep us accountable in this discipline!
Normally we read a Psalm each day, followed by the chapter of the Book of Proverbs that corresponds with the day of the month. This way we go through the Book of Proverbs once a month and the Book of Psalms once every five months. This “wisdom search” time has become a very meaningful time of listening to God’s Word for answers to our questions and insights into the struggles we face each day. The psalmist wrote, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105), and our children have experienced this truth. Seeing the practical application of God’s Word to specific needs has motivated our children to love the Scriptures and to seek God in them.
Along with reading Scripture together each morning, Don and I have encouraged our children to read the Bible through on their own (every year if possible) and to memorize and meditate on God’s Word before going to bed each night.
Learning to Make the Most of Our Time
The wise use of time is another discipline that I believe is honoring to God. Keeping a regular family schedule—with flexibility—was one factor that helped our children become aware of the value of time. This discipline became personal to each of our children when we required them to keep a weekly time chart of the hours they spent on major activities. These charts helped me report the hours they spent on each subject.
We also knew that learning was not an activity that took place only from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, so we discouraged our children from spending time on entertainment, such as watching organized sports, playing computer games, and watching T.V. programs. Our children were motivated to give up these things when we planned other activities, such as learning to play baseball as a family, organizing games with other families, or playing tennis at a nearby park.
We also believed that learning to play an instrument would help our children use their time wisely. In time this became a valuable ministry tool, as we have been invited to many churches to present a musical service because of our children’s ability to sing and play instruments.
Because of their diligence through the week, we felt our children should be rewarded with an eagerly anticipated “family night,” which was Friday night for us. We gathered together to play favorites such as card games, board games, volleyball, ping-pong, croquette, and badminton. These times taught us good sportsmanship and patience with younger siblings.
Investing in Academic Disciplines
Communication skills were one of our academic priorities. Since the best way to learn to write well is to write, and the best way to learn to speak well is to speak, our children wrote and spoke. They kept journals, wrote letters and e-mails, and researched and wrote reports for our family’s “report night.” They told stories at bedtime on family night, taught children’s Bible clubs, and participated in family ministry in nursing homes.
Having a purpose for writing and speaking motivates us to do our best. As the children grew older they became good communicators by presenting reports to family members and grandparents and by singing and giving testimonies in our church, other churches, and nursing homes. I also emphasized grammar knowledge through diagramming sentences. This requirement helped them learn English and provided a good basis for learning a foreign language and for understanding word studies in the Scriptures. Our children developed handwriting skills by writing out their Bible memory verses.
Another upper-level English requirement we set was the completion of ATI’s Faith, Virtue, and Knowledge Journals. These journals can be done simultaneously with the Wisdom Booklets, and they are designed to follow the pattern of development described in II Peter 1:5: “. . . Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge.” In these journals, the children record evidences of faith in Scripture and personal testimonies of the character development and academic learning that takes place through their studies. One motivation for completing the journals is a certificate of recognition that is awarded at the ATI Regional Conferences.
Regarding mathematics, each child has had a different level of interest in math. The basic requirement for all of our children has been the completion of eighth-grade arithmetic and at least Algebra I by doing math 4–5 days a week, 1–2 hours a day, year round. At whatever age they complete these basics, they may choose to study whatever advanced math topics interest them. Some of our children have studied consumer math, while others have chosen to study geometry, physics, or calculus. I think the motivation in math studies came from our consistency throughout the week and by continuing throughout the year as much as possible.
Trusting in God and His Word
By God’s grace, our children all love God and desire to have a relationship with Him through the Lord Jesus Christ. They have been trained to find the answers to life’s problems in God’s Word and to help others do the same. These foundational truths should carry them through whatever they face in the future.
We are very grateful to the Lord for the way he has led our family to incorporate Biblical standards and teachings as a way of life. Attending the yearly ATI Regional Conferences, applying what we learned in the IBLP seminars, and studying the Wisdom Booklets have greatly enhanced our ability to do this. I pray that our testimony will encourage others who are raising their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
Related Command of Christ
This testimony illustrates the command of Christ to Despise Not Little Ones. (See Matthew 18:10.) Donna learned to have patience with her children’s learning patterns and to consider their needs as she planned the school year. She also challenged them to grow through mature disciplines, such as time management, character development, and personal devotions.